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How Can I Legally Assist a Loved One with Hoarding Disorder?

An estimated 5 percent of the U.S. population is thought to be afflicted with hoarding disorder to some degree. The problem with this statistic is that hoarding oftentimes is a hidden condition that even people with connections to a hoarder lack knowledge. Nonetheless, you may have a family member or other individual in your life that you’ve learned is suffering from hoarding disorder. As a consequence, you may have real questions about how you can go about lending assistance to a hoarder, including what legally is possible in this regard.

What is Hoarding Disorder?

You undoubtedly are like many individuals who have a vague idea of hoarding. Indeed, there have been some fairly widely watched television programs that presented the lives of people laboring under hoarding disorder. What you may not have fully come to understand – and you are not alone in this regard – is that hoarding is classified as a mental health disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition, or DSM-5.

The world-renowned Mayo Clinic has developed a succinct definition of hoarding disorder:

Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.

Over time, hoarding becomes more severe. A person’s residence can become not only unlivable, but unhealthy and unsafe. Professional intervention on a number of fronts may become necessary, including mental health, organizational, and legal.

Is Hoarding Illegal?

The question of whether hoarding is or is not illegal is not misplaced. Hoarding behavior within a person’s own residence is not in and of itself illegal. The reality is that some of the consequences of hoarding can prove to be violations of local ordinances or state statutes. For example, the effects of hoarding can include the creation of a public nuisance. Hoarding can result in health and safety code violations. Thus, in the final analysis, a person is able to accumulate inappropriate amounts of certain types of objects or items that may not technically result in any violation of the law because a public nuisance, healthy, or safety issue is not created at the time.

Establishment of a Guardianship and Conservatorship for a Person with Hoarding Disorder

A legal step that might be necessary to provide meaningful assistance to a person afflicted with hoarding disorder is the establishment of what is known as a guardianship and conservatorship. A guardianship and conservatorship is established when an individual is incapable of taking care of basic affairs of daily living. In some instances, a person with hoarding disorder that has developed to an extreme state very well may be an ideal subject for a guardianship and conservatorship.

An important factor to bear in mind is that over 90 percent of people who do have hoarding disorder will “relapse” and hoard again following an intervention and cleanup of a residence if proper supplemental assistance is not in place. In some cases, that additional assistance does need to come in the form of the formal structures associated with a guardianship and conservatorship.

A guardianship and conservatorship differs from something like a durable power of attorney for financial or healthcare purposes. You may be familiar with the concept of a power of attorney or may have even prepared one for yourself in the event you are incapacitated in some manner. (If you have not done so, you should give serious consideration to preparing a durable power of attorney for financial or healthcare to protect your own interests in the future should the needs for this type of assistance become necessary.)

The process of establishing a guardianship and conservatorship in Illinois commences with the filing of a petition in court. Evidence is presented regarding the physical and mental health status of the person who is proposed for a guardianship and conservatorship. If the court agrees that the need for this type of assistance exists, a guardian and conservator is appointed to oversee the affairs of the individual.

The establishment of a guardianship and conservatorship can be a complicated legal matter. As a consequence, you are best served retaining a lawyer with experience in this area of the law. An Illinois court might approve having reasonable attorney fees paid with conservatorship funds. In the alternative, you may be also able to access legal counsel on a pro bono or no fee basis to assist in establishing a guardianship and conservatorship for a person laboring under hoarding disorder.

Establishment of a Power of Attorney for Financial Purposes

If your family member or friend in your life who labors under hoarding disorder has a less severe form of the condition, taking the legal step of establishing a guardianship and conservatorship may not be necessary. In some instances, establishing a financial power of attorney of attorney may be of some value when it comes to addressing the needs of a person with hoarding disorder.

There are some cases of hoarding disorder in which the individual with the condition overspends and purchases inordinate amounts of certain items or objects. A person with hoarding disorder may routinely make purchases of items or objects that utterly are unnecessary. Granting a responsible person with a sincere interest in the wellbeing of a person with hoarding disorder a power of attorney may prove to be a helpful tool in bringing an existing hoarding situation under control and preventing a relapse into hoarding behavior in the future.

You do need to bear in mind that the person with hoarding issues must create the power of attorney on his or her free will. In addition, the individual must be of sound mind and body at the time the instrument is created or executed. The fact that a person is afflicted with hoarding disorder doesn’t mean that he or she lacks the competence to execute a power of attorney in all cases.

In conclusion, there are legal issues and strategies that should be borne in mind when it comes to a sincere desire to assist a person afflicted with hoarding disorder. The proper use of available legal avenues may prove to be a fundamental component of providing a chance for more immediate but also lasting order and happiness to the life of a person suffering from hoarding disorder.

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